Bird Brains and the Urge to Gamble

If you've ever wondered about the urge to gamble, some very interesting research has suggested that things might work at a much more primeval level than you may have previously imagined.

The humble pigeon, perhaps one of the least loved birds, was the focus of this experiment a the University of Kentucky.

In essence, the pigeons were given the chance to play on their own slot machine games, with a significant reward to them - food. The pigeons were trained to press one of two keys, which would display different vertical or horizontal lines and colours. The pigeons would then be paid out in food pellets depending on what the display showed.

In essence, without knowing it, the pigeons were playing a slot machine. Only a vertical line and a specific colour would pay out the effective jackpot of 10 food pieces. What was discovered was that the pigeons would go for the vertical line, even though a horizontal line in any colour guaranteed three food pellets.

Pigeons and chickens happen to be quite good at associating food with certain patterns.

Most of the pigeons turned out to have degen gambling tendencies like regular players of video slot machines. They shunned the chance of the guaranteed three pellets to chase the 10. Where this falls down compared to humans is the pigeons may not have known the overall maths, but they were happy to go with nothing for the chance of the big reward.

This shows that the urge to gamble seems to be instinctive or almost a default setting, and also that it is helped by the fact there is some kind of pattern to the reward - the pigeons, like people, seem to be attracted by the spinning wheels and the fact they were playing for their supper.

It seems you are not necessarily a bird-brain if you have that urge to enjoy slot machines.

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